It was a day of summer fun that turned tragic.
Last Sunday, three-year-old Ava-May Littleboy was bouncing on an inflatable trampoline set up on Gorleston beach in the UK. Her mother Chloe was watching. Then there was a loud bang. Witnesses say the inflatable exploded, and Ava-May was thrown around seven metres into the air.
“Literally, it was just screams from everyone on the beach,” witness Zoe Dye told the BBC.
“It was almost like slow motion. Poor little girl was in the air. No one could do anything. People were trying their hardest to catch her and she just dropped.”
A lifeguard immediately rushed over and did all he could to keep Ava-May alive. Paramedics soon arrived on the beach. But a spokeswoman for the ambulance service says that when they got there, Ava-May was “seriously injured and in cardiac arrest”.
“Sadly, despite all of the efforts and interventions, she was pronounced deceased,” the spokesperson said. “We would like to thank everyone who rushed to respond to the young patient, and did everything possible to give her treatment and care.”
Ava-May’s family released a statement saying that she left a lasting impression on anyone she met.
“Her infectious laugh and smile could light up even the darkest of rooms,” they said.
A family member set up a fundraising page to pay for a park bench in memory of Ava-May to be put in her local park in Suffolk. The target of £1500 (AU$2685) was quickly exceeded.
“To all that have donated for this cause, we don’t know all of you but I am overwhelmed by your love and thoughts,” wrote Ava-May’s grandmother Angela Littleboy.
After two horrific tragedies, Government need to look at update of regulations and inspection regime and consider a temporary ban on bouncy castles in public areas until we can be sure that they are safe. https://t.co/pjXom7r5DT
— Robert Halfon MP (@halfon4harlowMP) July 1, 2018
A British MP, Robert Halfon, has called for a temporary ban on bouncy castles in public areas.
Halfon is the MP for Harlow in Essex, where a seven-year-old girl, Summer Grant, was killed in 2016, when a bouncy castle that wasn’t properly secured blew away. Two fairground workers have been jailed over Summer’s death.
“Another horrific tragedy after the horrific tragedy in Harlow in 2016,” Halfon tweeted. “Clearly there needs to be a serious review into regulations around bouncy castles. Just awful.”
So how dangerous are jumping castles? Could a similar incident happen in Australia?
Mark Rubiolo, from Bubbling With Energy Entertainment, has been in the jumping castle business for 27 years. He tells Mamamia that the inflatable trampoline that Ava-May was playing on was “completely different” from the jumping castles that kids play on in Australia.
“They’ve called it a bouncy castle because that’s what they call it in the UK but it actually wasn’t,” he explains. “It was what they call a sealed inflatable.”
Rubiolo says sealed inflatables are sometimes used in Australia, floating on water, which keeps them cool. There’s also a built-in safety feature.
“They have a release valve, so when it gets to a certain PSI, it releases air, so there’s no way they can actually explode,” he adds.
The sealed inflatable that Ava-May was playing on was on sand, and it was a warm day, which would have caused the air inside to expand. Rubiolo suspects it may have been inflated too much, and that either the valve was faulty or it didn’t have a valve.
The jumping castles commonly used in Australia are “constant air inflatables”. They’re not sealed, so don’t have that same possibility of exploding.
“You place a blower on the back and it’s all stitched together, so when you inflate that jumping castle, the air comes out through the stitching,” Rubiolo explains. “There is not a chance in the world that a jumping castle could actually explode because the air gets released through the stitches.”
Rubiolo says Australia has the strictest standards in the world when it comes to jumping castles. Operators have to deflate the castles when the wind reaches a certain speed. This is to reduce the risk of one being blown away.
“The majority of the ones you see on YouTube, they’re an error from the operator who hasn’t looked at it and said, ‘Oh jeez, it’s too windy.’”
However, Rubiolo does believe that there could be risks with people using “el cheapo” jumping castles they’ve bought from stores.
“They don’t have to comply with standards,” he says.